Editor’s note: On Tuesday we will be publishing a point-counterpoint by two parents on opposite sides of the Douglas County “Option Certificates” (or vouchers) proposal. The piece below was submitted to Education News Colorado by Justin D. Williams, a member of the Douglas County Board of Education.
Answers to the eight common opposition comments to Douglas County Scholarships:
1) Issue: You can’t use taxpayer dollars for private schools.
Response: It’s being done in 17 states currently at the K-12 level. The courts have ruled that the money goes to the families and the families decide where to send their child. It would be illegal to require a student to attend a private school. Also, our taxpayer dollars are currently going to BYU, Notre Dame, Gonzaga and most other accredited, religious-based universities via Pell Grants and the GI Bill. Those are tax dollars going to educate a student at a religious-based school. Also, we use taxpayer dollars at religious hospitals. We do this every day on many different levels.
2) Issue: Our school district has cut $100 million out of its budget over the last four years. We have to pay to have our kids ride the bus. We can’t take money out of our budget and give to rich, private-school kids.
Response: First of all, all private-school kids are not rich. And our proposed program is going to keep 75 percent of the money from the state ($6,100) and give it to the family for their choosing. The district keeps 25 percent. At 500 kids in the program, we make $400,000. That’s $400,000 that we don’t have now. This is NET NEW money. It will reduce cutbacks.
3) Issue: The BOE is spending too much time on this and not focusing on an election.
Response: We have to form a product if we are going to go out for an election. We spend most of our time on the “meat and potatoes” of education.
4) Issue: This is just rich, white Republicans trying to fund their religious schools.
Response: No, these are taxpayers who have a right to send their kids, and their tax allocation, to the school of their choice. It’s fair. Some are Republicans, some are white, some are neither. It’s not about race or being on one side or the other. It’s about being fair.
5) Issue: What happens if 500 kids all leave from one school? (As hypothetical as this is, many demand an answer to this question)
Response: It is unlikely that they would all leave from one school. But if they did, we would really examine what’s going wrong at that school. But we would use some of the PROFIT from this program to provide subsidies to those schools that lose too many kids.
6) Issue: By counting new students, you are making the pie smaller at the capital, thus taking money out of the educational fund.
Response: We are growing by over 1,300 students per year. This program will only have 500 students for the fall. We are still growing and receiving a net-new amount of students. In addition to that, Douglas County is a net-payer into the state. Other counties/school districts are net-receivers from the system. I’m okay with school districts like DPS getting more money. But how much is too much? We have reached that point. We finally had the money to put in a WAN this year. That’s about eight years later than it should have been.
7) Issue: 93 percent of our families are happy. That’s a great percentage. Why are we focusing all of our time on this small percentage?
Response: I have spent 100 percent of my time on the “core” students up until now. If you add up all of the time I have spent on this issue, it won’t add up to 7 percent of my time. And isn’t it about time we address these families/students who want something different? We can speculate why families want a different option. But you can’t deny that there is a demand for something different. We are just trying to meet that demand.
8) Issue: What happens if it fails? Where’s the data that shows that it will work? We need to see hard data to see that it will work. We also demand that the district take a poll to see if this is what they want.
Response: We don’t have data that will show it will work. We also don’t have data that show it won’t. How could we get data for this? This country (and every company) has been started with a risk. This has a risk, but it is a mitigated one. And we are not going to poll. We just had an election a while ago and the county voted in favor of three new board members that were very clear on their intentions.
Most other objections are variations of these eight. Just one other thing: Please don’t think that I am anti-teacher. It is a poor conclusion. I don’t believe you will feel that way after we get this completed.
Popularity: 34% [?]